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Gospel Hands: Proclaiming Jesus to those with hearing loss

Verna Weigand never envisioned working as a sign language interpreter. But then she married her husband, Dean, whose younger brother was deaf from birth. “I wanted to be able to communicate with him,” remembers Weigand.

That desire led Weigand to take sign language classes. She quickly realized that although there are thousands of signs for everyday words and concepts, religious concepts like sin and grace, confession and absolution, were unfamiliar. That led Weigand to another realization: “I realized how many deaf people didn’t have a church home,” she says. In fact, it’s estimated that hearing loss affects more than 500 million people worldwide, and 85 to 90 percent of those affected don’t attend church. “Why bother?” says Weigand. “It’s like watching TV without sound.”

Those realizations prompted Weigand to learn religious signs so she could interpret at church. Again, a realization: Public sign language programs didn’t include religious signs. Undeterred, Weigand gradually began to pick up religious signs from deaf people who knew them. She also got involved in the synod’s Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MDHH), which works to help congregations share the gospel with those with hearing loss.

Weigand, a member at Mt. Calvary, Waukesha, Wis., is thrilled that churches have become more open to using interpreters in worship and are providing resources like words on AV screens, hearing loops, and printed sermons for those with hearing loss. “It’s really important that [those with hearing loss] know the congregation will assist them and not just say, ‘We don’t offer that here,’ ” she says.

Weigand also talks about the blessing of technology, which has led to a new website called Gospel Hands. Knowing that the printed book of religious signs it had produced years before was no longer practical, the MDHH set a goal three years ago to have signers record videos of over 700 religious words and concepts to post online. Committee members collaborated on choosing the signs and context for each word. Weigand notes that Gospel Hands is growing as new resources are continually being added, like videos of signed worship services.

Gospel Hands isn’t just for interpreters. It’s also for those with hearing loss and the people who care about them and their faith (see sidebar). In addition, the website has an appeal for a wider faith community since no other church body currently provides such a robust resource.

For Weigand and everyone involved in Gospel Hands, this labor of love has been well worth it because it shares the message of Jesus with those with hearing loss. Says Weigand, “It’s important to let them know that we’re there to do what we can to help them understand the gospel.”

Featured image above: Nicole Barabas, a teacher at Grace, St. Joseph, Mich., and member of the MDHH, signing for the new Gospel Hands website.

Using online resources

Sophie and Maggie Willems with their cousin, Parker.
Sophie and Maggie Willems with their cousin, Parker.

Susan Willems, a member at Christ the Lord, Brookfield, Wis., doesn’t have hearing loss. Nor do her husband or daughters. But her one-year-old nephew, Parker, has been deaf since birth. The new Gospel Hands website has been a tremendous blessing because it provides a way for Willems’ family members to share their faith with Parker.

Willems’ daughters, Sophie and Maggie, have been using the website to learn the signs for religious holidays like Christmas and Easter, which they have been sharing with Parker and other family members. “We learn sign language so we can include Parker in every aspect of our family,” Willems says.

Willems’ family looks forward to the addition of more resources to the Gospel Hands website, like sign videos for common prayers. Because of Parker, the family has become more aware of the importance of recognizing and connecting with those with hearing loss. “You never know when the opportunity will present itself to share Jesus with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing,” says Willems.

Learn more at Find additional resources at

Author: FIC
Volume: 111, Number 05
Issue: May 2024

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